Sunday 24 November 2013

Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor

Miss Zygon

Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor
UK Airdate: 23rd November 2013

Warning: Spoilers sweetie!

This year, two very famous fictional doctors are celebrating big anniversaries. The first of these was in March when Doctor Clark Savage Jr, aka Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze, celebrated his 80th. To celebrate this, a new Doc Savage novel was written by Will Murray (the current incarnation of the Kenneth Robeson pen name, although this one went out under his own name) in which Doc Savage crossed paths with another fictional character who shares his 80th anniversary year with Doc in 2013. This particular Doc Savage adventure is called Skull Island and the other 80th birthday boy is, of course, King Kong. 

But the other fictional doctor, who is quite young in comparison, a mere 50 years old as the time lord flies, is of course The Doctor from the BBC TV show Doctor Who. And last night I watched the 50th anniversary episode of the series, not in 3D at the cinema (although the temptation was certainly there), but in 2D at my parents home, as a family unit... as I had mostly, off and on, watched Doctor Who for the last 43 of my 45 years of existence.

So did it live up to the hype and incredible amount of fan expectation that preceded it?

No, not really. It couldn’t possibly, could it? But, although I found myself a little underwhelmed at the time, mainly due to my own “what if...” kind of expectations, the episode certainly wasn’t terrible and it was, actually, really jolly good, mostly. Up to a point.

It wasn’t greatness but then again, the other two anniversary specials, The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors, weren’t the best stories of their respective contemporary Doctors either and, well, the less said about The Two Doctors (reviewed here) the better, I think (not even “the great Troughton” could save that one).

So it’s probably a little unfair on Moffat to expect multiple Ogron orgasms from the episode so... if anyone did really hate this one... seriously boys and girls... cut him some slack.

Now then, one of the reasons my expectations were raised so high is because, two nights prior to this, I’d just seen Mark Gatiss’ own tribute to the show, the excellent An Adventure In Space And Time (reviewed here) and, frankly, after seeing that, I was prepared to accept miracles from the regular incarnation of the show. At the end of that review I wrote “If the 50th anniversary episode shown on Saturday 23rd November 2013 is even half as good as this one, then we’re in for a good time on that one too” and I did have a good time with The Day Of The Doctor... but there are a fair few negatives with it that didn’t sit too well with me either, I’m afraid. On the other hand, there were a fair few positives too and so I’ll save those for the end of this review because, I do want to go out on a positive note on this one... I hate being a grump when it comes to this show but this is kinda what the show has turned me into over the last few years, it has to be said. It’s a much more “hit and miss” affair than it used to be before David Tennant left the show. And that’s not a pop at Matt Smith, who is briliant in the role also, whether he’s got a good or bad script.

Okay, my first negative is that, apart from not having a sorely missed Christopher Eccleston in it properly, I did think the Zygons were a little underwhelming. Now I don’t remember the Zygons too well. I think at the time of their first appearance opposite Tom Baker in Terror Of The Zygons, I was busy watching a new pretender to the Saturday night science fiction throne which, quite deliberately, aired on ITV at the same time. The show was called Space 1999 and it didn’t take me all that long, it has to be said, for me to lose interest in that and return to Doctor Who but, these were the days before commercially available (let alone affordable) video recorders, remember. So I never got to actually see the original Zygons in their first round with The Doctor but, I did like the make-up/costumes and, thankfully, the BBC haven’t really changed them all that much this time around.

However, the clue was in the title to the original story... Terror Of The Zygons. 

As in terror.

Actual terror.

As in monsters you were supposed to be terrified of... and by all reports of people I know who did tune in for it... they were kinda scary. Which brings me to my main problem with The Day Of The Doctor. The Zygons here were not terrifying and, even when they appeared to have the upper hand (in the most obvious manner where every kind of escape is entirely possible), they really weren’t all that threatening and were mostly played for laughs, really just the straight men... er... straight creatures for Matt Smith and David Tennant to bounce off, for the most part. In fact, the actual Zygon story didn’t even come to a proper conclusion that we were shown. They were just tools used to get a few incarnations of The Doctor together so those three could reminisce about an important moment in their collective past which they were about to undo and so the aliens in question were just kinda jettisoned when they were no longer needed. I really think that monsters such as these could maybe have had a stronger entrance into the modern era version of Doctor Who before Moffat played around with them in this fashion. Even the comic relief Sontarons had a few truly deadly missions in new versions of the show before they became the, admittedly quite entertaining, joke that they are now. Never mind, though. Let’s let Zygons be Zygons and forgive, shall we?

Then there was the fact that bits of it really made no sense. Queen Elizabeth the First would not be able to remain disguised, or is that undisguised, as a Zygon long enough to learn the intricate details of their plan down to the Nth degree to explain it to The Doctor(s) really, would she?

And then there was the Time War.

Great gravitas from John Hurt and I’ll get back to him in a little while but, ultimately, as much as I regretted Russel T. Davies’ decision to make The Doctor the last of the time-lords (with occasional convenient exceptions) and as much as I knew that the only way to keep running forward with this show was to bring them back at some point, I really think this episode unmade that decision very quickly and with no sense of it being a hard thing to accomplish. Bit rubbish. Nice effects, to be sure, but the time war seemed to me to be a bit of an inconsequential battle, and not the war of different aliens and collisions of history the event had been made out to be in numerous episodes. So that was kinda trashy.

The only other negatives I got were that sometimes Smith and Tennant seemed to cancel each other out, almost, in the funny man stakes (which are stakes The Doctor shouldn’t necessarily be playing about with anyway) and also the fact that Billie Piper’s return to the show was not as Rose Tyler, but as an interface based on her and who was unable to interact with any of the incarnations who would actually have known who she was. That felt a bit like a kind of missed opportunity, to be honest, but at least there was a plus side to both these last two negatives... so let’s start getting happy and brightening things up a little.

When they weren’t cancelling each other out, Tennant and Smith did have some wonderful exchanges between them such as the “reversing each other’s polarity” scene and which culminated early for me with the wonderful line that Tennant says to John Hurt’s “true ninth Doctor” character... “I dunno where he picks this stuff up from”, in response to Hurt’s enquiry about the legitimacy of Tennant’s (and Moffat’s) original “timey wimey” phrase which Smith uses. That, for me, was the highlight of the episode, in fact.

And let’s look at that performance by Billie Piper. She may not have been Rose but she was truly stunning as the conscience of the most powerful weapon in the Time Lord arsenal, “The Moment”. And put her in a room with one of the greatest English speaking actors going, aka John Hurt, give them both a script with a particular thorny issue (genocide and the mass murder of billions of children) and you get a truly great set of scenes which, alas, lead up to a conclusion which, as I said earlier, wasn’t won with too much struggle but... you know... what a lead up to it, though. John Hurt was, of course, excellent and I really didn’t expect anything less from the old war horse... now transformed into the “War Doctor” as a means of keeping out fans comments about the hasty renumbering that has to be done now.

Oh, and that reminds me. I’m not finished with the negatives after all. Here’s another couple for you...

It’s unfortunated that, during the end of the Fourth Doctor’s era, it was established that a Time Lord can only regenerate 12 times (flying in the face of continuity with prior bits of the show’s history actually, but people seem to forget that bit). However, with that bit of established lore, having a line in it from the all powerful “The Moment” which says that The Doctor’s punishment is to carry on living is really a sorry excuse for losing that rule. Really? That’s it? I do hope not but, since future Doctor Peter Capaldi (who made his debut in this episode actually, just like I tweeted I thought he would some weeks ago... otherwise why announce him so early? Gotta get him into the audience consciousness so the cameo has weight.) is actually now Doctor number thirteen, I really hope that Steven Moffat does the right thing and addresses this long standing issue properly at some point.

And then there’s Tom Baker, Who turns up playing “The Curator” but makes jibes about being The Doctor, completely breaking the barrier between verisimilitude and fiction and being completely “meta”, as the kids say... destroying all credibility of the show, once again. He was brilliant and entertaining and, maybe even seeking redemption for not returning for the 20th Anniversary special but, for me anyway, the cost was too high. Further explanation was needed but, alas, none was forthcoming.

Okay, so back to the good stuff.

Lots of Doctor Who references, both visual and audio related. I loved the new character Osgood, played by Ingrid Oliver, and would love to see more of her in the series please... and even didn’t mind the fact that she was wearing Tom Baker’s scarf. The UNIT archives, or whatever they were, had lots of references of course but, for me, the best reference came from David Tennant when he delivered the line “I see you’ve redecorated. I don’t like it.” This was, of course, a quote from Patrick Troughton’s Doctor in the 10th anniversary special The Three Doctors and it was particularly gratifying to hear my second favourite Doctor, Tennant, quoting my all time favourite Doctor, Troughton. So that was a nice bonus.

And that’s about pretty much all I’ve got to say, if I’m honest. I understand why we just saw Peter Capaldi’s face in extreme close up... they want to reveal the true personality and costume of that character in the next series and, truth be told, I reckon they probably didn’t even know what that was going to be yet when they filmed it. And all the archival footage of the various incarnations of the character on the view screen and even the overly cheesy construction of them all standing together at the end was all very entertaining. But I did feel underwhelmed and I think I’ll probably get more out of it when I give it a second watch sometime next year on Blu Ray or DVD (yeah, I know it’s out in a week or two but I’m pretty sure I won’t get around to watching it again for a good few months yet).

However, although I didn’t like the story arc on this one, I did think a lot of the dialogue... not all but a lot... was particularly good and it’s certainly not the let down, nor indeed the triumph, that I could have foreseen. Just a nice little celebration for a nice science fiction hero who deserves to have a nice slice of cake and a cup of tea on his Birthday so... Happy Birthday and Happy Times And Places to you Doctor. And may you have many more.

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